3 ways winning companies tackle the digital skills gap

Vaco - Addressing the digital skills gap - blog graphic (1)

While the transition to a digital-first mindset was building among businesses long before 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a seismic shift that turned that gradual transition into an imperative. Digital adoption among businesses and consumers is estimated to have accelerated by five years in a matter of months in 2020. And the global ecommerce economy grew by nearly 20 percent in 2020 alone.

As companies raced to adapt to the new environment, they often found their digital initiatives faltering at an early stage.

At the heart of these challenges often lies the same fundamental truth: many organizations lack the talent they need to be successful in a digital transformation. This is a costly problem. Recent data projects worldwide spending on digital transformation technologies and services will reach $1.8 trillion in 2022. If those investments produce little or no ROI, companies face not only financial setbacks, but delays on the road to transformation.

As digital adoption has accelerated, the hiring market for professionals with digital skills has tightened. Market demand for software engineers, quality assurance testers, and cybersecurity specialists has increased significantly, while unemployment levels in those professions have dipped to record lows. This has led to fewer applicants for open positions, more competition for top candidates, and a larger investment of time and resources to find talent. 

For companies on the brink of digital initiatives, the inability to find and hire necessary talent has caused major setbacks in digital adoption. At the same time, skills gaps on their existing teams can create discord and implementation issues throughout every digital initiative.

Brad Rowley is a hiring expert in the emerging technology hub of Central and Western Pennsylvania. Over the years, he has worked with numerous companies facing setbacks in digital initiatives because of skills gaps on their teams. During that time, he has found three key areas where companies need to improve: estimation, prioritization, and collaboration. 

Estimation: successful digital transformation requires a long, hard look at current staff

In an August 2021 survey from Chief Executive, 32% of CEOs polled listed lack of skilled talent as their biggest obstacle to innovation. The second most common response, technology, was cited by only 16% of respondents as their biggest barrier to innovation.

Clearly, organizations are feeling the talent squeeze—from either the historically competitive hiring market or the realization that current staff is not adequately skilled in digital.  

When companies undergo a digital transition, they often assume that their current workforce can be trained or mentored into becoming effective digital leaders and practitioners. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. 

A project manager, for example, may not have the mindset or skills that actually determine success in a Scrum Master role. As a result, it may be difficult for a traditional PM to display vital soft skills—like coaching, facilitating, analyzing and empathizing—that make Scrum Masters effective digital leaders. Similarly, team members that work in silos may find it difficult (or impossible) to adapt to the collaborative environment required by a digital-first culture.

Rowley considers evaluation of current staff to be among the foremost concerns for companies gearing up for digital transformation within their organization. 

“If an organization is attempting to complete a digital transformation, they must take a deep look at their staff and ask themselves key questions: Who is well-aligned? Who can make the adjustment? Who can’t? The quicker companies can get in front of that information, the faster and more efficient a transformation will be.”

The task of evaluating your staff for digital skills can be daunting. Most organizations don’t know which skills are most relevant, or most detrimental, to key roles within a burgeoning digital transition. 

How can companies effectively evaluate their current staff for digital skills?

Companies approaching digital transformation need guidance and insight from experts within the space. 

Through his partnerships with enterprise clients in the Pittsburgh area, Rowley has seen how seasoned expertise can be transformative for companies on the brink of a digital initiative. His team has a particular pulse on the current staffing challenges companies face as they pursue digital adoption.

“We have advised numerous companies in multiple industries on tackling these challenges, so we can help clients identify the personality types and mindsets within their organization that will transition more easily into some of these new roles, as well as the traits that don’t work so well,” Rowley says. 

With insights from a digital transformation consulting team, companies can not only evaluate their current staff for necessary skills, but also develop a strategy for future hiring needs. 

Prioritization: recognize that your digital processes need to be scalable to meet future growth

During transformation, many companies focus on identifying skills that are necessary to complete an ongoing digital project. What they don’t consider are the most valuable skills for sustained and future growth. 

Rowley points to initiatives like Agile transformation when illustrating this point:

“Many companies have the concepts of Agile nailed down, and at the team level it works pretty well, but they have trouble scaling it. There are several scaled Agile frameworks, whether it’s SAFe or Nexus or LeSS, that exist to address these challenges. But the problem is that the frameworks aren’t typically one-size-fits-all. So you still have to be able to intelligently incorporate these frameworks into the wider enterprise. And many companies aren’t sure how to do that,” Rowley says.

To scale digital technology or processes, companies need the right leadership and talent on their teams. Before they can acquire the right talent, they need a clear understanding of talent and skills gaps within their current workforce. 

If your company has a deficit in Agile skills, an Agile coaching consultant can accelerate the process of evaluating and upskilling current employees. If your digital initiative requires a new team of software engineers or information security analysts to scale functionality, managed IT services can fill those gaps. Change management can provide critical, organization-wide changes that start with leadership and incorporate every member of an organization.

Collaboration: address the silo mentality within your organization 

Digital skills aren’t centered on tech and IT anymore. For a truly successful transformation, companies need to evaluate digital abilities across all business functions. More importantly, every department needs to be interconnected and working towards aligned goals and objectives. 

Say, for instance, a company is undergoing a digital transformation initiative to migrate key business processes to the cloud. If only certain departments or stakeholders within the organization have access to migrated data and cloud-based systems, collaboration across the business hits a dead-end. 

Cross-silo leadership can serve a vital function in breaking down silos and ensuring collaboration across departments. They can also help identify current and future staffing needs throughout each step of the transformation process. 

Unique companies require unique resources and solutions

Rowley points out that while most companies are experiencing similar struggles within digital transformation, the reasons for those struggles vary widely. And they require a unique set of solutions to solve. 

Rowley says the key to effective management of these challenges is finding a digital transformation partner that can offer customizable solutions across a range of business needs. 

“It’s vital for organizations to find a partner that provides a range of solutions and delivery models. They need to be able to customize and scale the support and resources they receive,” Rowley says. 

This customization of solutions can help companies address their unique pain points and support their unique goals. It also ensures that their digital transformation strategy is fortified by the right skills and the right team members, every step of the way.

Interested in learning more about how companies are planning for digital transformation in 2022?

Click on the image below to view our Conquer the Digital Skills Gap webinar on-demand with the author of this blog, Brad Rowley, and a panel of tech labor leaders and decision makers! In this webinar, we discuss how companies are planning to close the digital skills gap while navigating an increasingly competitive tech labor market.

Brad Rowley is Managing Partner of Vaco in Pittsburgh. Vaco is a global talent solutions and business consulting firm that serves over 12,000 clients with more than 10,000 employees around the globe. 


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